Habitat Acoustics And Microhabitat Selection In An Ensiferan Assemblage Of A Tropical Evergreen Forest │
Several animals, both vertebrate and invertebrate, communicate using sound and they do so in a non-ideal medium, the habitat in which they live. As acoustic signals pass through the habitat, they suffer loss of information due to signal degradation, which is often determined by the acoustic properties of the habitat. Understanding the influence of habitat-induced constraints on signaling is vital to the understanding of evolution of signal structure. Over time signals can evolve their temporal and/or spectral characteristics so as to resist or reduce degradation. Conversely, signalers may modify their behaviour so as to improve transmission for effective communication. The Acoustic Adaptation Hypothesis (AAH) predicts that given the properties of the habitat in which animals communicate, signals should evolve so as to maximize their broadcast range and the number of potential receivers. The prediction of the hypothesis is that signal transmission is best in the native habitat as compared to non-native habitats. Since its inception, the idea of acoustic adaptation has been tested in several vertebrate species including birds, mammals and frogs but rarely in invertebrates. Moreover, most of these studies have been carried out at the macrohabitat level, such as transmission in forests versus grasslands. For animals with limited mobility such as invertebrates, a finer level of investigation at the microhabitat level is more relevant. Only one study on cicadas has investigated the predictions of the AAH at the microhabitat level. Besides, investigations done at the community level are largely missing in the literature. The effect of height on signal transmission is well documented, however, only one study on birds has investigated the AAH with respect to vertical stratification of coexisting species. Among invertebrates, crickets are well known for their calling songs which males use to attract conspecific females over long distances. No study so far has tested the prediction of the AAH in these acoustically communicating invertebrates. The central focus of this study was to test the predictions of the AAH in a natural assemblage of ensiferan (cricket) species. I examined the prediction of the hypothesis at the microhabitat level with respect to the vertical stratification of co-existing ensiferan species. The study was carried out on an assemblage of crickets in the wet evergreen forests of Kudremukh National Park in the Western Ghats in Southern India. For this purpose, it was important to examine calling height and microhabitat selection in these animals because if the use of calling height and microhabitat was random, then there would not be any native height/microhabitat and the question of acoustic adaption would not arise. Therefore, I first standardized methods to characterize the habitat of the crickets. Using resource selection functions, I then quantified microhabitat selection in 13 ensiferan species. I also examined the calling heights of these species. My results suggest that these species are microhabitat specialists and also distribute vertically within the forest with respect to calling height. Based on the knowledge of the vertical distribution of these animals in the forest I then carried out playback experiments using natural calls of 12 species of Ensifera in their natural habitat. The transmission experiments were carried out at five heights in the forest, including the ground, different parts of the understorey as well as in the canopy. The study aimed to examine whether vertical stratification in the ensiferan species of Kudremukh is driven by selection for maximizing transmission range. I examined the effect of different heights on signal degradation. The investigation was carried out with respect to three different measures of signal degradation, namely, total attenuation, signal to noise ratio as well as envelope distortion. The results indicate a lack of overall support for the AAH with respect to vertical stratification of crickets in Kudremukh. However, a strong, independent effect of height of calling on signal degradation was found, with the ground being the worst layer for transmission and the mid-understorey (2 m) emerging to be good for all species with respect to all three measures of signal degradation. I then analysed the transmission data from a different point of view, exploring the possibility of evolution of signal structures that may confer some advantages in terms of signal transmission, given the habitat-induced constrains on signal propagation. The idea was to examine why certain species perform better than others in terms of signal transmission. This investigation was aimed at characterizing the effect of call features on signal attenuation. I found that temporal features of calls did not have a strong effect on height-specific signal attenuation. While call duration had no effect on signal attenuation, duty cycle did influence attenuation profiles of the calls, with high duty cycle calls performing better than low duty cycle calls. However, there was no interaction of height with the temporal features of calls, eliminating the possibility of these features being shaped by microhabitat or height dependent transmission characteristics. Spectral features of calls, on the other hand, affected signal attenuation very strongly. As expected, low frequency calls performed better than high frequency calls and pure tone calls fared much better than the broadband calls, especially on the ground and the canopy. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first study to carry out a rigorous quantification of microhabitat selection in Ensifera. This is also the first detailed examination of the Acoustic Adaptation Hypothesis at the microhabitat level, tested in a natural assemblage of coexisting invertebrate species.